Friday, March 19, 2010

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

I am having a wonderful day off work today! I slept in, read, watched TV, read some more, and now I'm blogging. I even read outside a little bit and enjoyed the sunshine and beautiful 70+ degree weather this afternoon. And watched my cat Optimus Prime chase and "kill" leaves. After the unusually dreary winter we've had, it was nice to be outside a little bit, although in sterotypical nerdy reader fashion I have really bad allergies and hope I'm not going to pay for my hour of sunshine. I took extra medicine and showered immediately after coming inside so hopefully I'll be fine. And apparently we're getting another snowstorm tomorrow so maybe that will kill off any remaining allergens. That's one thing about living in Oklahoma - you never get bored with the weather! I do hope the snow stays in the northern part of the state though, because my husband and I are driving from OKC south to almost the Texas border for a concert tomorrow night. Stone Temple Pilots - Scott Weiland how I love thee! This will be the sixth time we've seen them in the last 18 months, and I'm hoping the play their new single that the debuted at SXSW last night.

But this blog is not about my complete obsession with Scott Weiland and company. So let's talk about the book I was reading out in the sunshine - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: A Novel (P.S.)
 I have to admit - I'm not a big fan of twentieth-century literature. Give me a classic written before that time and I'm rarely disappointed. But classics of the twentieth-century? Rarely enjoyable. They tend to either fall into the overly flowery and eccentric style of Woolf or into the overly simplified and boring style of Hemingway. There are of course exceptions. I love The Great Gatsby and I surprisingly enjoyed Drieser's Sister Carrie. But for the most part, they just aren't my cup of tea.

I felt that The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was hampered a bit by both styles. Her writing felt overly simplified for me and didn't sweep me along. She didn't seem to vary her sentence structures, and the overall language was somehow lacking. But, she didn't fall firmly in the Hemingway camp. She jumps around within sections to different time periods, making use of a style more in the Woolf camp. It was never really confusing, but it seemed out of place, and almost lazy. Lazy may actually describe the whole book rather well - it's like she just sat down for an afternoon and thought up a story, but didn't put any effort into the actual writing part of it, or story organization, or overall development. That may also be why it's so short. It's just 137 pages in my edition.

But despite the issues I had with it, I enjoyed reading about Jean Brodie and the Brodie set. Miss Brodie was a teacher during the 1930s and had a group of girls she picked out of her class to raise up above the rest. She taught them about art and culture and life instead of just English, history, and math. She went a bit off in telling her 10-year-olds about her own love life though, and years later in encouraging one of the girls to sleep with a teacher. That made me start identifying with the headmistress who wanted to rid of Miss Brodie instead of with Miss Brodie herself. I did like how the book doesn't seem to unabashedly praise Miss Brodie though. It does celebrate her teaching the girls culture, but I think Spark shows her going wrong a bit too.

Another aspect I found interesting was that Miss Brodie praised Mussolini and taught her students about the wonderful changes he was making in Italy, and later she praises Hitler, and she travels to both Italy and Germany throughout the book. The story takes place before the evil of those men was evident, and it was interesting to think about people who supported them early on.

In the end, I had mixed feelings about this book, and it's hard to really say if I liked it or not. I may check out the 1966 movie version - it stars Maggie Smith, who I absolutely adore, and she won an Oscar for it.

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